Carpet Burns and Yoda and Just Saying No (or Yes)

After one particularly drunken evening I woke up the next morning with some pretty nasty carpet burns on my back.  I was 24, newly separated from my first husband and living in a small flat in Manchester, UK with my then 2 year old daughter Jessica.  This was the Wednesday morning after my regular Tuesday night out – my parents used to have Jessica to stay every Tuesday – and I had to get ready for work.  If you’ve ever spent the day in a warm office, wearing a clingy blouse that is sticking painfully to your skinned shoulder blades, you’ll know that it isn’t a pleasant experience.

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I couldn’t remember how I had come by such accusatory injuries, but I was worldly enough to make a fair guess; nonetheless, the details of that evening’s events will forever remain a mystery.  By the time I had Jessica tucked up in her bed that Wednesday night, I knew something had to change.  It wasn’t the first time I’d been out for a night and ended up with gaps in my memory, but this time the whole thing just left me feeling depressed and guilty.  Not a good way to feel.

I chatted about it with some co-workers who largely seemed to dismiss my concerns with platitudes like “Everyone does that” or “don’t beat yourself up about it”, and I didn’t feel any better about it at all.  There was a glaringly simple answer staring me right in the face.  Never drink more than one drink in a 24 hour period.  So that’s what I decided to do.

Having previously been a bit of a party girl (probably a good way down the road to a serious alcohol problem), many of my friends were a little sceptical when I announced my plan.  I wasn’t actually seeking approval by telling my friends.  I just thought that if I made it public it somehow made the plan more real and harder to go back on.

My Good Life Protocol idea was a good few years in the future at this point, but I did have another secret weapon. Yoda! Yep, Yoda.  There’s a great quote from the 1980 film, The Empire Strikes Back that had really struck a chord with me.  Never a snob about where my principles come from, every time from then on, that I was offered, or was tempted to buy, a second drink I thought of Yoda.

“No! Try not. Do. Or do not!! There is no try….”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_tYQRP4QWM

In actual fact I spent the next 12 months completely teetotal – and in the process amazed myself – and have only fallen off my self-made wagon twice in the last 30 years.

“There is no try” I think makes a pretty good foundation for one of the GLPs.  Just because something is a social norm doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  We all know that eating a poor diet, drinking too much, disliking others because they are different (to name a very few) are bad ideas and yet are all pretty normal in our society.  “Don’t beat yourself up about it” is all very well and a very good idea, as is “be kind to yourself”.  I have found that it’s much easier to be kind to yourself and to avoid feeling guilty by applying a few principles to the choices I make.

  • Listen to your feelings
  • Research the facts
  • Look unflinchingly at the pros and cons
  • Don’t put off making a decision
  • Once the decision is made, apply it immediately, or as soon as possible
  • In case of dithering, call in Yoda

In this way I think it is much easier to take control of your life.  You are less likely to have to “look the other way” when it comes to some of the things you do, and indeed the things you believe in. Advertisers want you to buy, eat, drink and pretend to be merry and many political and religious organisations want you to be scared.  Between wanting to fit in and fearing the unknown we can end up with pretty miserable, unhealthy lives, making very poor choices into the bargain.  If we let them, these influences can blur our vision, but I believe that many, if not most, of us really know the difference between a good idea and a bad one.  Trust your judgement, be decisive and then call in Yoda.

 

How the “Win, win , win and then, and then and then” GLP criteria works

So I knew that I couldn’t just put any old random “rules” in the GLP list just because I liked the sound of them.  So many times these days I see people posting stuff on Facebook, – you know the posts I mean, coloured boxes with philosophical content – and doing it pretty much in bulk.  You read the snippet and, without thinking, find yourself nodding in agreement without really thinking properly about what that little nugget really means.  It works on the “knee jerk” as opposed to the “brain work” principle. 

For me, for any ideas to be incorporated into my life they have to fulfil several criteria, not least the aforementioned “win, win, win and then and then etc.” rule.  I remember years ago, when my children were little, having a rather disconcerting conversation with another mother at the school gate.  Her child was rather small and bespectacled and was being bullied by the other kids.  “I’ve told him to just hit them back” she said, and went on to tell me that that was the way she had been brought up. “Yay! Good idea.  Teach those bullies a lesson.  Stand up for yourself”.  Really?

These days we could put “just hit them back” in a coloured box with an image of a little boy whacking a bully and post it on Facebook and I’m pretty sure it’d get likes and shares.  Trouble is, it doesn’t really pass the WWWATATAT test does it?  In fact, give that idea a few seconds thought and it starts to look like a dismal bit of advice to give a child in that situation.  Just a quick “and then” check and the whole idea starts to look a little off.  One result might be that you turn a child with a naturally peaceful disposition into a reluctantly violent one, or that the much bigger bully just goes for a second bigger punch, or that the whole situation just escalates into an ugly schoolyard brawl.  No-one wins. We all know that, in simple terms, this sort of principle has led in the past to many a devastating war involving millions of casualties.   It’s a bad idea, but like many bad ideas can sound pretty good unless you apply a bit of critical thinking. 

Our society is full of bad ideas touted as good and, in my opinion, come in the main from all-pervasive advertising and from religion not to mention the societal norms that are the mutant lovechildren between these two strange parents (and I think that Hollywood schmaltz might be the uncle).  Personally, I take “You are not normal” as a compliment.  A big one. 

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you have probably noticed that, thus far, I may have seemed reluctant to reveal exactly what my GLPs are.  Well here comes a little reveal.  Don’t be disappointed.  The following GLP might seem so prosaic as to be not worth mentioning but please stick with me for a moment as it makes a good illustrator.  

Here’s the little preparatory story…. As a child in the 1960s I was brought up to believe that wasting food was a very bad thing.  We weren’t allowed to leave food on our plates and my mum planned meals on a weekly basis so that shopping had to be carried out with military precision. On one particular occasion, when I was about 8 or 9, at a family celebration, I remember seeing a very alarming sight.  There was a paper plate on the table that contained two half eaten sandwiches (ham and piccalilli) a lump of cake icing and a cigarette butt carelessly ground out in the centre,  the whole thing topped off with a sprinkling of ash.  

To say I was deeply disturbed is no exaggeration.  I only had one reference to go by at that age – don’t waste food – and so I just couldn’t understand what I was seeing.  I had to go and talk to a higher authority and that was my Nana.  Ever to be relied upon for a simple and clear explanation she told me that “people don’t like to seem mean” and also “people sometimes get carried away if something is on offer free of charge”.   This occasion was the earliest time I can remember seeing in action the human tendency to allow social normalcy to override common sense.  So strong is the desire to “fit in” with group that even the most obviously good behaviours and choices are ignored.  I don’t say I thought about this in quite these terms; I was only 8 years old after all, but nonetheless the paper plate image and what it represented played some part in one of my most basic GLPs.  Don’t waste food.

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There are lots of “and then”s  attached to this one.  I’m pretty sure we all know them already.  You waste food and then:

  • You waste money
  • You add to landfill
  • You feel guilty
  • You require more land to be used to service your foody needs
  • You set a bad example if you have children

There are more, but you get the idea.  As for the wins, they are pretty obvious too and are pretty much the opposite of the list above.  All win in fact.

If you happen to be invited to my house to eat you can be pretty certain that I won’t be thinking “I don’t want to look mean”.  I don’t care even slightly about that. I don’t always get it absolutely right and the brown banana has occasionally been my downfall.  As for social normalcy – in this case, I laugh in your face and apply my longstanding GLP.